Today’s Daily Cup of Joe steps away from the here and now and jumps forward to June the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken will occur. Just like with the previous expansion draft, each team will lose exactly one player after having some exempt because of limited professional experience and others protected.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at the myriad of possibilities for that draft with a focus on the blue line where the Hurricanes are most likely to lose a player.
Rules for protection/exemption
Each team will have the ability to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or one goalie and eight skaters of any position. In addition, there are requirements for making available a certain number of players with minimum NHL experience. In addition, players with two or fewer years of professional experience are exempt.
On the exemption front, most notable is that Martin Necas does not need to be protected.
Who the Hurricanes would protect and potentially lose
The Hurricanes can only protect one goalie and most also expose one. Best guess is that the Hurricanes will re-sign and protect Petr Mrazek, will part ways with James Reimer to free agency to salary cap space and will expose Alex Nedeljkovic with the hope/expectation that he is not selected and instead becomes a cost-effective #2 goalie. If Nedeljkovic continues to receive regular starts can play as he has for the past couple games things could change, but as of right now, I would not expect Seattle to select him. With each team being able to protect only one goalie, there will be better options available both from the prospect and veteran standpoint.
At first glance, the possibility of protecting eight skaters to get another spot for a defenseman, but when one counts heads who must be protected, the four remaining slots are not enough. Even with Necas exempt, the Hurricanes would need to protect Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teravainen, Vincent Trocheck and Jordan Staal who has a no-movement clause. That makes five. The only long shot that the eight skaters (instead of seven forwards and three defensemen) could come into play if Jordan Staal agreed to waive his no-movement clause and be exposed. Based on age, salary and other math, maybe that risk makes sense, but considering chemistry, I would be very surprised to see the Canes try to expose their captain.
So if you assume the normal seven forwards, that would include the five listed above plus two more from Nino Niederreiter, Warren Foegele, Brock McGinn, Jordan Martinook, Cedric Paquette and Jesper Fast. Regardless of which two additional forwards are protected, I would expect the Hurricanes to instead lose a defenseman simply because the options available there are better.
And this is where things get interesting. I would be shocked if Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are not among the three defensemen protected. Both are in their prime, bona fide top pairing defensemen and signed for contracts below market value.
But after that it gets interesting. If re-signed, one would figure that Dougie Hamilton would be the third defenseman to be protected, but with the latest rumblings on a negotiation gap between the team and Hamilton per Pierre LeBrun, Hamilton is suddenly less certain to be in the mix. Below I consider the pros and cons of each player both from a Hurricanes protection standpoint and also Kraken desirability standpoint.
Despite costing a first-round draft pick at the trade deadline last season, Brady Skjei is very likely to be exposed for the expansion draft. He is still trying to find a higher gear in a Hurricanes uniform and his $5.75 million salary at least offers salary cap relief if he is lost.
Entering the 2020-21 season, the Hurricanes would seemingly have been thrilled to give up the last two years of Gardiner’s four-year contract in losing him in the expansion draft. But Gardiner has started season strong and arguably now ranks above Skjei on the depth chart especially when considering that his salary is $1.7 million less per year. Unless he surges even further in what is left of the 2020-21 season, Gardiner seems unlikely to garner protection but is not necessarily a player that the Canes would be happy to lose anymore.
Dougie Hamilton’s situation is interesting in terms of the possibility to maneuver a bit. If re-signed before the expansion draft, Hamilton would most certainly be the third defenseman protected. But with him being a free agent at the end of the season, the potential exists for the Hurricanes to first clear the expansion draft without needing to protect an unsigned Hamilton, use the third slot or someone else and then re-sign Hamilton after the expansion draft. Especially with Hamilton’s camp supposedly clamoring for $9 million-ish Alex Pietrangelo money that the Hurricanes are unlikely to pay, letting Hamilton test the market and then trying to re-sign him after the expansion draft if he decides to give up top dollar would be an interesting play. That would give the Hurricanes another protection slot on the blue line.
Starting the season, I would have figured Haydn Fleury to be the most likely player to be claimed. With Gardiner coming off a tough 2019-20 campaign overall, Bean completely unproven and Skjei a bit pricey, Fleury would have represented a young, inexpensive #5-ish defenseman with potential upside. Fast forward to today, and I think Fleury is a bit less likely to be selected because I think his upside is modest. Skjei and Gardiner represent the ability to grab a veteran with top 4 experience either to build the Seattle roster or be traded. And if he continues on his current scoring pace, Bean would represent upside in the form of a young, offensive defenseman. As such, I think Fleury rates as a steady bottom half of the roster defenseman with only modest upside as a defensively-oriented defenseman. Increasingly, I think Fleury gets exposed but that the Kraken either go for a more proven veteran or the upside of Bean.
Jake Bean’s situation has changed dramatically since the start of the season. Before the season started, he was a decent but not incredibly young prospect who had upside but was completely unproven at the NHL level. With better options available, I would have been surprised to see the Kraken pass on the type of veteran blue line options that could be part of the core of the team defensively. But with Bean now playing regularly and collecting a good number of points, his stock has surely risen. If Bean continues playing like he has been and Hamilton is not re-signed prior to the expansion draft, I could actually see the Hurricanes protecting the younger, less expensive Bean figuring they can only lose 1 of the 2 veterans which has some benefit in freeing up salary cap space.
As noted above, the single biggest thing the Hurricanes could do in terms of gaming the expansion draft would be to hold off on re-signing Hamilton until after the expansion draft has past. That would allow the Hurricanes to protect three other defensemen and immediately add Hamilton to the mix after the fact. That would spare the Hurricanes top three defensemen and also one of the other veterans or Bean.
Another possibility is trading defenseman before the expansion draft to get something in return. This really only makes sense if a premium return is received. The Hurricanes have to lose a player, and that player is most likely to be a defenseman. So trading a defenseman only to lose another would leave the team minus two instead of one player on the blue line. Best might simply be to realize that being deep defensively is perfect for losing a player and still having enough proven depth.
Also as noted above, the only other wild card would be getting approval and exposing Jordan Staal. But might a new team actually take him to add a veteran leader and because they have to take on enough salary anyway? Stranger things have happened. I just do not see the Hurricanes exposing their captain just because of age.
How I would play it
If I was Don Waddell, I would negotiate but hold off on re-signing Hamilton. With the potential for him to become a free agent, I do not think the Hurricanes are going to get him for the discount they want before Hamilton dips a toe in free agency anyway. And because he is an unrestricted free agent, the Hurricanes do not really have much leverage in pushing him to re-sign early for a low amount versus at least exploring the market first.
After that, I am watching the rest of Jake Bean’s 2020-21 season closely. Because he could represent very inexpensive help on the blue line but with upside, if he continues racking up points while being at least serviceable defensively, I might actually protect him over the other three options. Keeping Bean and his contract that figures to be in the neighborhood of $1 million while possibly losing one of Gardiner or Skjei might be exactly the salary cap savings needed to keep Hamilton and stay under the salary cap. If Bean fades a bit and is not worth protecting, the tough question is whether to prioritize price (Fleury) or proven top 4 capability (Skjei or Gardiner).
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on re-signing Dougie Hamilton? How big of a priority would you make it ranging from paying full Pietrangelo price at $9 million versus pushing for a sizable discount that risks losing him by trying line his salary up with Slavin’s int he neighborhood of $5.5 million? What do you think of the prospects of holding off on re-signing him after the expansion draft has passed?
2) If you had a third slot not needed for Hamilton, would you use it on Skjei, Gardiner, Bean or Fleury?
3) What do you think of packaging up a defenseman who cannot be protected possibly with a medium range forward or prospects to add a higher-end forward who could be protected without losing more than a depth forward?